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Turning 30 in France

There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.

Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.

That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.

From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.

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Peace Lily

On the week preceding our second year anniversary, we find ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. From among a plethora of options including Boston Ferns, Burgundy rubber plants and Yucca canes, our eyes rest on a modest looking plant named Peace Lily. Its white shell-shaped flowers wrap around a baby corn-like spadix like a secret. We bring it home, and place it next to our bookshelf. Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are its new friends. Every once in two days, we water it. Every friend that comes home drenches it further in compliments. 

Two weeks hence, we find a new baby leaf. Elated, we buy a new overarching acrylic shade floor lamp, just to shine on it. 

Everything is peaceful, until one morning we find a leaf turning yellow. It slowly wilts and falls. The yellow, like over-watered paint, spreads on other leaves, and then to the creamy white of the flower. Concerned, we move it closer to the window hoping the first rays of sunlight would heal it. We fill our living room with plant friends — Anthurium, Kalanchoe, and chocolate mint; we feed it sugar; and till the soil with surgical care. We also bring in the Masters. Vivaldi, Chopin and Beethoven. Every morning, at the strike of dawn, they fill the house with music. 

But Lily seems obstinate. She continues to shed some leaves, sprout some. She has grown taller ever since, but now and then, as if overcome by a sense of sadness, her leaves droop and turn color. She is not ideal, but she is resilient. Full of peace, hope and beauty. Just like love, just like a relationship.

Aren’t we glad that – on the week preceding our second year anniversary, we found ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. 

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Love that smells like cake

I remember the taste of my mom’s cake batter. The feel of sugar granules on my tongue, and the shock of seeing so much butter poured into a bowl in one shot. My mom would whisk the egg, butter, sugar, flour and baking powder with a spatula. We didn’t have a food processor, or even a whisk back then. When tired, my sister and I would take the bowl from her and make long strings of the sticky batter; sometimes spilling it all over the floor. Annoyed, the bowl would be taken away, and given to my dad who would patiently bring it to the required cake consistency. Impatient and hungry, we would stand next to my mom in the kitchen, while the cake baked in the pressure cooker. We didn’t have an oven back then. Years later, now, though I cannot recall the smell as easily as a visual memory, what I can recall is how it felt like to be able to slice a piece off the translucent butter paper. It felt like the warmest hug and the softest kiss. Years later, thousands of miles away from my mom, when I tried baking a set of blueberry muffins in the oven recently, all I could think of is that modest pressure cooker that baked some of the happiest memories of my childhood.
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To Ohio and back

To me, Ohio is about watching Steve and Maggie on Youtube; walking amid half empty bottles of milk, an assortment of toys and stray crayons; eating Kirkland’s ice cream bars and madeleines; and getting kissed and hugged by the three-year-old niece.

N and I drove to Stow, Ohio, on Saturday morning. We started around 5 am, when the moon, big and bright, still dominated the blue sky. It followed us, as we began a journey of 430 miles, passing three States. In Ohio, we remained within the comfort of home, even as winds picked up speed, and swayed the trees outside. Indian home food, Malayalam movies, and lots of catch and throw. In the night, once my niece was asleep, we watched the final episode of Game of Thrones, and went to bed, a little disappointed. But the morning brought the sound of happy laughter and excited squeaks from the little one.

We painted, stuck stickers, and watched a new series, Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, on Netflix.  We took a little walk outside, but the wind swept her red cap away. So we walked back home.

After a heavy lunch, it was time to leave. We packed our bags, and started our drive back home. This time, there was no moon following us. Even the sun left us midway. In the darkness, guided by street lights, we crossed the 430 miles, and got back to our warm, cozy bed. Waves of silence slowly rocked us to sleep. Only to take us back to the effortless laughter of the three-year-old niece in Ohio.

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Six Flags

Six Flags (Great Adventure) was more than about rides.  It was about this red bottle which never ran out of soda. It was about the overly juicy, pesto-dripping bread that we had for lunch. Of course it was about Nitro, Batman and Bizarro, but it was also about the really funny photo captured of us shouting our lungs out. It was about waiting in line for an hour for the first row in El Toro, and of cheering for the little kid who was too scared before the ride, but too happy after. It was about getting drenched to the bones in Log Flume, and shooting with an unforeseen rage at all the 4d creatures, in Justice League. But most importantly, it was about feeling like a superhuman for one day. Floating in the sky, riding along with the wind…and getting a little closer to the bright yellow Sun.


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Story of yesterday

It’s a habit. Every morning, I walk out the bedroom with a book and pen in hand. Just as the steam rises from the hot mug of coffee in front of me, I open the book. Paragraphs and paragraphs written in the familiar cursive writing lie asleep between its pages. I open the cap of my Hero ink pen, and just like any other day, it throws a tantrum. So I flick it twice, and then poke the nib violently on the page, till, like a squid, it lets out thin black ink. With it, I write the Story of Yesterday. The movie I watched, the new fruit that I tasted, the conversations I had, and the love that I got. Each story, like each day, doesn’t take more than 24 lines. By the end of it, my face is a little moist from the coffee steam, and my heart, a little lighter. I close the book, take a long sip, and begin the day — which, the next morning, would be capsuled into a Story of Yesterday .

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Sunday night

It’s Sunday night, there are many more hours between now and the rush of Monday morning. So we sit back, make some jokes, share some laughs. We let ourselves sink into the couch, and watch a heartwarming movie. And then we move slowly from the living room to the kitchen as if intoxicated by the joy of the weekend. We make some space on the table for a game of Tsuro – the game of the path. Tile by tile, we move our respective coins, surrendering to wherever the noodle like path takes us. But we must stop, for, the pizza guy is here. Board game aside, we pour ourselves a glass of coke each, and take a heavy cheese-dripping slice of pizza. Mouth-full, we chuckle to Frasier’s rib-tickling jokes. After all, it’s Sunday night, there are many hours between now and the rush of Monday morning.

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Game night

Pandemic with friends
Personalized Monopoly

It started with Monopoly. N and I would sincerely carry the rectangular box along with a bottle of wine to all our friends’ houses. An hour into the game, the laughter would cease, and there would come a sense of tension, jealousy, anxiety, and a raw need to win. So we kept the little houses and mansions aside, and instead, got tiny rail carriages. In Ticket to Ride, USA version, there was no room to argue, beg and trade, as in Monopoly; and there was less left to chance. But then, one could always block another player’s route. When this happened, there was one less happy person. It was the same with Risk, Catan, and Seven Wonders.

Until one day we trespassed on Forbidden Island. N and I played it nine times, always defeated by the game. But together, we strengthened our resolve to beat it, and the tenth time we did. Us against the game. Together, united. Whether we lost or won. We found the same joy in Pandemic, last night. We plotted for hours to end a breakout, find cures, and build research centers around the world. Over pizza and wine, six of us fought our hardest; and when we lost, we cursed the game, swept the coins off the board, then laughed and planned another game night the next day.

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Window

Each morning, it’s a different movie. I raise the curtains, open the blinds, and let the film roll. Usually it begins with the same elderly lady walking her physically challenged Yorkshire Terrier. And then comes a band of youngsters in Neon pink and green. The voices rise all the way to the window and in, along with the bright rays of the morning sun. A few hours pass. Except for the slight sway of weak branches, there is no movement. A brief recess. And then it resumes. A mother pushing her baby stroller; a couple on a casual walk, teenagers poring over their phones…I watch, taking in the magic of the mundane. My eyes catch a face on the opposite window; just like that, I am in someone else’ movie. Time ticks, sun sets, every window now is a pale orange canvas. I close the blinds, and wait for the next show at dawn.

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As promised…

My obsession with sketching has taken a new high. I have signed up for a course on graphic illustration. It is being taught by this wonderful instructor called Junichi Tsuneoka (look him up!). He is a serious guy who dissects what seems like a complicated subject into small chunks and places it in small platters for us to consume. Each video is just five to six minutes long, and packed with a ton of info. But most important of all, the course inspires me to think out of the box, and expand from just sketching realistic images to more wacky ones. But also the kind that conveys a story. Anyway, I have only just begun it. There is a long way to go. A journey that I will be sharing with you all (translates to: expect a lot more sketch posts).

Meanwhile, as promised, here are some more sketches that I worked on in the past week.

#1 A beautiful apartment in Jersey City. Pull up those blinds and what you see is the Hudson river cradling the New York skyline. I have been here so many times, but still haven’t been able to make up my mind if the scene is best at dawn or dusk.

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#2 On the path train. Four of us were travelling in the train, tired after the day’s adventure. And all of a sudden, the lady right opposite to us zips open her back pack, and a pair of eyes stares back at us. An adorable homeward bound Shih Tzu.

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#3 My sister sent me a picture of my niece. She had made a welcome gift for her dad who was visiting them over the weekend. There was a heart and fish shaped paper card that melted my heart like a slice of butter on a hot pan.

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#4 An afternoon walk to the library. This is just outside our apartment. I was waiting for a car to pass, and cross the road. I stopped and soaked in the simple beautiful picture in front of me. A line of apartments, a field of green, a few trees shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, and a very strawberry colored STOP sign.

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#5 Me. Listening to Tom Odell’s Another Love.

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The end.

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Fresh batch of sketches

Over the last one week, I have been sketching quite relentlessly. Trying to reduce the time I take to finish a single sketch. So much so that, I have ended up with a terrible neck ache. But it’s an addiction that I am not willing to let go. Capturing the world in simple black ad white lines helps me makes sense of it.

Hope you like them. Also, if you have any suggestions, would love to read them in the comments section.

#1 The Strand

I heard about The Strand bookstore in one of the news articles. Apparently it is one of the best bookstores in the whole world. Located in the corner of East 12th Street, in the neighborhood of Manhattan, it welcomes you with a tome of books on either side of the door. All kept under the burning sun for passersby to peruse. At discounted rates, a thick travel book about Ireland is definitely a good buy. We enter, and there are just shelves and shelves of books. Enough for one to play a good game of hide and seek. And if its not books, then it is The Strand merchandise. Bags, T-shirts, sketchbooks, etc. We spent a good 30 minutes just walking in the aisles, surrounded by books, just too confused to pick just one.

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#2 Newport Center selfie corner

Right when you enter the Newport Center mall, on the left side is a colorful selfie spot. The backdrop is a nice scenery, with the ropes of the swing ending right on top of a tall stool. You can sit on the stool, and act like you are holding the rope. It is fun and creative. In this sketch, while everything else is as is, I took the liberty of getting rid of the stool legs.

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#3 Times Square

This was just a few minutes before we entered Radio City Hall for Ludovico Einaudi’s concert. It was a Saturday evening, and Times Square was buzzing with activity. A sea of people floated in front of us. Tons of people rested on the steps, below the flashy billboards, taking snaps of what is probably the busiest part of America. After standing,  a little dazed, for a few seconds, we mixed in with the crowd, like thin brooks joining a river. And flowed we did, to our respective seas.

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#4 Quill and ink

I had bought a set of quill and ink from Quincy Market, Boston, almost five months ago. It came with a nicely yellowed, almost archaic-looking, crushed, parchment. I had forgotten about this buy, until recently when I had an urge to write my journal with an ink pen. So I mixed the ink powder with hot water, and let it rest for a while, before filling my ink pen with it. There is something so primal about seeing fresh ink dry up on a white page.

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And here is what I did with the parchment. Borrowed a quote from the coolest man, Ron Swanson (Parks and Rec, anyone?)

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#5 Strawberries

It’s summer. Period.

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#6 The Halal Guys

Just done with the Ludovico Einaudi concert, we were starving, and my heels, still not broken in, were biting my feet. However, we walked the extra mile, to the ever-crowded road-side eatery The Halal Guys. While it is best known for its gyro and chicken, we, a bunch of vegetarians, wanted rice with falafel. We waited for almost 20 minutes in a long queue. Only to be told that the vegetarian meal is over. Such is the demand of this dimly-lit mobile food joint.

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Until the next five.

Happy weekend all!

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Fireworks

In India, one of the most important festivals is Diwali, also called the Festival of Lights. Given the diversity of the country, there are many versions of why the festival is celebrated. But universally, it just denotes the victory of light over darkness. And this, quite literally. For people decorate their houses with oil lamps and LED lights, and light the sky up with fireworks. Sparklers, ground spinners, fountains, poppers, snakes, rockets…you name it and they have it. The use of fireworks is not just restricted to this festival. Weddings, funerals, a cricket game, or New Year’s eve, the box of fireworks are unpacked. So I waited with bated breath for July 4, to see some stunning pyrotechnics in the sky, here. On the night of the US Independence Day, we drove to Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, and with the Delaware river and a row of historic boats behind us, we looked up at the spotless sky to see train of bright light glide to a height and explode into stardust. A few couples embraced each other in a warm hug, children jumped in excitement never taking their eyes off of the sky, and a bunch of them shouted ‘USA’ in a patriotic fervor. The display went on for a good 30 minutes, like a rehearsed and well-organized theatrical piece. At the end of it, I would have clapped, almost, but for the flood of people that rushed their way to the exit.

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